The Pursuit of a Full-Time Fitness Career
By far one of the most frequent questions I receive IRL and over social media is how to make the switch from Corporate America to a career in full-time fitness. A lot of people assume that life as a personal trainer or group exercise instructor is what they see on Instagram: photoshoots, working out all day, brand partnerships, and a positive attitude that never ends. But I can assure you – there is so much more to the life of a trainer than the posted highlight reel…As great as it may be, there are a lot of things to consider before you kick Corporate America to the curb!
And just to be clear, the purpose of this piece isn’t to deter anyone away from a life well lived or following your dreams, but instead, paint a total picture of what it means to be a full-time trainer.
Some fine print:
- These thoughts are my own based off of MY experiences and opinions after straddling the corporate agency/fitness world for nearly a DECADE.
- The following is NOT reflective of my current gig, but rather a compilation of industry standards.
- I am NOT a “full-time trainer.” In addition to being a Barry’s Bootcamp Chicago Founding Trainer, I’m also part of their corporate structure leading the marketing efforts across the Midwest studios. I sit behind a desk and my computer for large portions of the day, report to several director and c-suite leaders, and am accountable for deadlines, performance, etc.
But first, a little bit about me.
Started From the Bottom
I began my group exercise career in 2009 teaching Spinning classes at a community box gym at 5:30 AM in the morning. It was the only job I could get, and I took it without a second thought. It was my foot in the door, and regardless of how badly that wake-up call hurt, I was eager and willing.
Sidenote: If you’re wondering where to start, that’s a good place. Get whatever job you can and give it your heart and soul. You need experience, and you have to start somewhere. I kind of think that goes without saying, but based on the questions I get I think it bears repeating.
I was in my early twenties, working in advertising 90 hours a week, and broke as fuck. Teaching Spinning was not only a way I could make additional money but was something I loved. I’ll never forget the rush that overtook my body as I gave the first command. I told everyone to come out of the saddle, and they all did it. Holy shit. I’m not sure what I was expecting, but it was a thrill I still can’t articulate almost ten years later.
Fast forward to today after years of work in both the agency and the gym, 5,000+ classes (across different formats) under my belt, and continued education. I’ve earned better jobs, a primetime schedule, and have built my following through consistent teaching and content creation. It’s been an uphill battle riddled with sacrifice, and I wouldn’t change a damn thing.
So here it is the good, the bad, the ugly, and what you should consider before you submit your two weeks.
The Best Parts of Life
- There is truly nothing better than being a source of inspiration for those around you. It’s a privilege and a HUGE responsibility.
- You will receive appreciation and gratitude on the regular. When was the last time someone genuinely said, “Thanks so much for this PowerPoint, oh my god it’s so fucking awesome!” Probably never. Every day I receive DM’s, texts, and sentiments which all say I’m part of a life-changing journey. It is so incredible and makes me feel so damn good. Shit, I’m getting teary-eyed just writing this.
- It’s a privilege to watch people do things they didn’t think they could do. When people sit down on their bench to catch their breath or drape their body over their treadmill after a hard set I know they did exactly what they set out to do. And I helped make that happen. Hashtag, blessed.
- Outside of when you’re teaching classes, you choose when and where you work.
- You can choose when you’re available and when you’re not.
- There are so many paths you can take, personal training, group instruction, or a combination of both.
Fitness is a Rising Industry
- It’s trendy to be healthy, people want to workout, and they want to spend their money to get fit.
- It seems like every brick and mortar company is adding a digital component to their offerings. That gives you exposure, reach, and accessibility. The opportunities are seemingly endless.
- Boutique fitness is a multibillion-dollar industry that isn’t going to pop anytime soon. There’s a studio on every corner, and there’s a workout for EVERYONE.
- Social media gives you a reach outside of your studio/training facility and the ability to connect with people all over the world.
- There is the potential for a lot of opportunities to work with incredible brands and create really cool content.
- Group exercise is just as much presentation as it is programming. You get to be creative and showcase your personality. It’s an act. People want to workout, but they also want to have fun and be inspired while they do it.
- Music is the ultimate motivator which is why “playlist-ing” is so fun. And while it can take hours (days) to find the perfect Kanye remix it is so worth it for that perfect beat drop/sprint combo.
What People Aren’t Posting to their Instagram Story
Income isn’t Guaranteed
- Most studios or gyms pay based on the number of clients that physically show up to class.
- Cancellations are inevitable, and you may or may not get paid pending on your individual or studio’s policy.
- How much you work is not reflective of how much you get paid. You’re paid for your time behind the microphone. You are NOT paid for the time it takes you to program, find music, network with your clients, and further your education all of which can take HOURS.
- You work when your clients don’t. That means early mornings, late nights, and weekends. Be prepared to sacrifice time with your family and friends, sleep, downtime, and more.
- If you choose to work at a boutique studio, no one will hand you the schedule of your dreams. Most gyms will offer you off-peak classes, or subbing opportunities only until you prove you’re capable of handling a primetime audience. Even then, most timeslots are one-in-one-out. A trainer has to leave for a spot to open on the schedule.
Education is Expensive
- Certifications can cost thousands of dollars and require renewal every couple of years.
- Training programs for individual studios are often unpaid and can take weeks of commitment.
- Education may seem irrelevant as the Instagram Celebrity Trainer becomes more and more popular, but trust me when I say it is invaluable. To gain your client’s trust and to differentiate yourself from the crowd you have to be KNOWLEDGABLE. Likes and followers don’t necessarily pay bills.
I attended a panel Harley Pasternak, celebrity trainer, sat on over the summer. He said, “Stop scrolling and pick up a book.” Preach.
There are No “Off Days”
- When you make the decision to join the world as a full-time trainer you are committing to the join the service industry. Service with a smile is your new MO!
- You don’t have the luxury of an off or a bad day, you get ONE first impression, and if you blow it, your clients won’t come back, and they’ll advise their friends to stay clear.
- Clients will use their workouts as their escape from the “real world.” The fact that the workout is your “real world” doesn’t cross their mind and doesn’t interest them. No excuses, you have a job to do.
- Unlike your desk job, you can’t hide behind a computer for this one, and you can’t dial it in. It’s going to show if you’re tired, hungover, or distracted and it’s not going to look good!
Finally, we live in a world where consumers are empowered to have a voice regarding their satisfaction with their experience. The workout you provide is the only hour of their day made solely for them, which they’ve paid for with their hard earned money. If it doesn’t live up to their expectations you can bet they’re going to say something – and it most likely won’t come in the form of a caring, constructive criticism conversation to your face. A negative review on Yelp, Facebook or Twitter is all part of the growth process. You’ll need a thick skin if and when this happens to you. Not every client will love you, and you won’t love every client, and that’s okay. You’ll have to pick and choose where you find your moments of growth and let go of anything that doesn’t serve you. Harder said than done – believe me!
Other Things to Consider
After reading the “best” parts of life as a full-time trainer you’re probably packing up your desk. And also, think about these final points before you ditch corporate America for good.
- Will you be responsible for your insurance or will your gym provide coverage? That goes beyond health insurance, that includes liability too. How does providing your own coverage impact your budget?
- Determine how many classes or clients a week will you need to train to meet your necessary living expenses? Is that schedule sustainable? And remember, for every class or client you teach an additional hour or two should be layered on top to account for your programming/playlisting time.
- Are you interested in personal training or group exercise? Both are VERY different environments that require a different skill set and attract two very different types of client.
- If you’re going out on your own where will you train your clients? In-home? Will you rent space?
- If personal training is the route for you, how will you market and price your services? Will you offer drop-in rates? Packages? Memberships? What will your cancellation policy be?
- Unless you work for an established gym or studio, you may not receive paid time off, vacation, sick leave, or maternity leave. Meaning, you get paid when you work.
- It’s not enough to love working out to make a career in fitness. You have to perfect your ability to communicate, inspire, and deliver information in a short period that can be understood by ALL ability levels.
How to Do It
If you’re ready to start the transition process, congrats! It’s truly an exciting time. Check out the below to help set yourself up for success.
Note: This isn’t a checklist, these are MY opinions on how you can make the most of your prep time before you enter fitness as a full-time trainer.
- Get certified based on your format of choice. If you’re interested in personal training or group exercise, I recommend NASM, ACE, or NCSF.
- Read and subscribe to newsletters and step outside of social media to consume content and educate yourself.
- Save as much money as possible to have a “safety net.”
- Network as much as you can. Go to events, take as many classes as possible. Learn from everyone and everything.
- Be consistent with your social media content. You don’t need a fancy camera or photographer to create compelling posts. Post often and engage with your followers. Offer them something of value.
- Teach as much as you can to gain experience, gain exposure to new clients, and be comfortable behind a microphone.
- Be true to yourself. If you mimic the people you put on a pedestal, you’ll never find real success. Fitness is an industry of poaching. We all take shit from each other, but the genuinely successful trainers are the ones that can put their own spin on everything.
- Be patient. It takes time to make “the leap,” and sometimes that means working two jobs until the time is right.
The Right Choice for ME
After much thought, consideration, and opportunity, I concluded that a full-time career in fitness is not for me. I need the corporate aspect to feel satisfied and comfortable in my situation. Don’t get me wrong, I LOVE training, and there is no place I would rather be than in the Red Room, but I have never wanted to fully give up my marketing and advertising expertise. It has always been important to me to contribute and help create – whether that be brand initiatives, or be part of a strategic and creative process. That’s what makes my current situation so idyllic.
What about you? Are you all in? Then make it happen for yourself.
Only you can decide what is truly worth your energy. Consider the above, craft a plan, set a deadline, and then work your fucking ass off until it becomes your reality.
Remember, our goals go unmet only when we decide the work isn’t worth the sweat.
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